Nautilus

On the Origin of Celebrity

I had such fun the other evening. LeBron James, Anne Hathaway, J.K. Rowling, and I had gone ice skating in Central Park. My dear friend Koko the sign-language gorilla was there, ice-dancing with Ryan Gosling, who is always good for a laugh. Afterward, we all got hot chocolate and ran into Lady Gaga and Freeman Dyson, who had just flown in from Cabo. Koko and Ryan had a hilarious arm-wrestling contest (we called it a draw). Things got even crazier when we went to get sushi and met up with Hillary Clinton, Justin Bieber, and Lucy the Australophithecus. Eventually, we all wound up at Hil’s apartment, where we played Twister half the night. What fun.

Now who wouldn’t want an evening like that?

We all feel the magnetic pull of celebrities—we track them, know their net worth, their tastes in furniture, the absurd names of their pets and children. We go under the knives of cosmetic surgeons to look like them. We feel personal connections with them, are let down by their moral failings, care about their tragedies. As I write, my family of musical fanatics is mourning the death of Cory Monteith. We not only feel for the pointless loss of a talented young actor, and for his girlfriend, Lea Michelle, but in some confused, inchoate way, also feel heartbroken for Finn and Rachel, the characters they play on Glee.

Why the obsession? Because we’re primates with vested interests in tracking social hierarchies and patterns of social affiliation. And celebrities provide our primate minds with stimulating gyrations of

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